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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Global child labour figures fall
Anti-child labour march in Thailand
Anti-child labour campaigns have grown around the world
The number of children working around the world has fallen significantly for the first time, a new study says.

Some 218m are classified as child labourers, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) found, down 11% from 246m in a previous report in 2002.

Numbers fell the most in Latin America, but there was little decline in Africa.

Campaigns and new laws have helped reduce child labour, the ILO said, raising hopes that many types of child labour could be eradicated in a decade.

The ILO study is the second by the organisation in four years, allowing direct comparisons between data collected in 2000 and new figures.

The organisation hailed the overall results as a breakthrough, saying that an end to child labour "is in our grasp" for the first time.

The past four years saw a dramatic decrease in the numbers of children working in dangerous industries, such as with hazardous chemicals, or in the sex trade.

Compared to a global fall of 11% in the overall number of children working, the numbers working in hazardous conditions fell by 26%.

Numbers of young children in employment around the world fell by 33%, said the ILO's director for the elimination of child labour, Guy Thijs, who called the figures "very encouraging".

Mr Thijs said continuous public awareness campaigns have had a real effect on government policy around the world.

"We see countries adjust policies, adjust legislation, implement programmes and focus on child labour, so I think we are beyond awareness.

218m aged 5-17 in work
126m in hazardous work
Almost 50m work in Africa
122m work in Asia
70% of workers in agriculture
Estimated cost of ending child labour: $760m over 20 years

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"We are now at a stage that countries actually put money into efforts to eradicate child labour and really take it seriously. That, I think, is really what is going to make a difference."

The ILO hailed Brazil as an example of real progress, where the numbers of five- to nine-year-olds in work fell by 60%.

In Latin America as a whole, two-thirds fewer children work now compared to four years ago.

Nevertheless there remain concerns about many areas.

In sub-Saharan Africa, struggling to fight an HIV/Aids epidemic, figures remain unchanged, with 26% of all children in work.

The largest numbers of children working are still found in Asia, where 122 million work, a decline of five million. China and Thailand were singled out for special praise by the ILO.

Under the terms of the ILO's Minimum Age Convention, ratifying states must specify a minimum age at which children are allowed to begin work.

Most developed countries set the level at age 15, and many developing countries at 14.

Youths under 18 are considered under-age for work hazardous to health, safety or morals, the ILO says.

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